Building partnerships and relationships, i.e. trust and mutual understanding, and working towards common goals takes time to develop. Reputation aside, "the proof is in the pudding", i.e. in how partners plan, work and actually implement together. As human beings, tied into our egos and "our" institutions, this can be rather difficult. Having been an American VSO volunteer, a bedeshi, for the past 4.5 years in both India and Nepal I know that building trust on both a personal, as well as, an institutional level is vital in order to be effective.
Recently I attended a meeting of organisations, hosted by the Peace Corps, whose development modality is to work through sending volunteers from their country or in the case of VSO, from a variety of recruitment bases, to a requesting country such as Nepal. The purpose of the meeting was to provide networking opportunities, but also to, "promote real collaboration between and among agencies and Volunteers".
Among others, three of the agencies represented were VSO, Peace Corps and JICA. VSO's vision, "is a world without poverty". Values include: "1) By thinking globally, we can change the world; 2) Progress is only possible by working together; 3) Knowledge is our most powerful tool; and 4) People are the best agents of change." The Peace Corps mission has three simple goals: 1) Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; 2) Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served; and 3) Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. JICA's volunteer programs support, "activities by citizens who wish to cooperate in the economic and social development as well as the reconstruction of developing countries. Through these cooperation activities, participating volunteers can not only contribute to the development of partner countries but also gain valuable experience in terms of international goodwill, mutual understanding and an expansion in their international perspectives."
In October 2005 Peace Corps signed a Memorandum of Understanding with JICA in order, according to then Director Vasquez, "expand collaboration on larger scale development projects, which are greatly needed throughout the developing world". In May 2011, VSO and Peace Corps signed a partnership agreement which, "leverages the resources of both organizations to improve the lives of poor and marginalized people, and to promote the value of volunteering in global development."
Given this background and a foundation for collaboration, the question for me is how do we practically partner, i.e. share mutual goals, working with civil society and the corporate sector, while helping, through trust and understanding, to implement Nepali government priorities. How do we, as a former VSO Simon Brown so concisely summarized, "realize that it's not about us and the answers that we've got to other people's issues, but it's about asking other people how we can help and what we can do".
In thinking more about Mr. Brown's statement, my feeling is that this requires a certain amount of experience/expertise and maturity on the part of individual volunteers and must transcend allegiance to the sending country. It takes a great deal of personal flexibility and knowing that one doesn't have all of the answers, but is willing to work alongside people from other cultures, to find appropriate solutions to, how we can help and what we can do. Not an easy task.
But back to the original question as to how various volunteer sending agencies can cooperate given priorities and allegiances. Because the agencies mentioned above, as well as many others, work through people there is a great opportunity through a "People to People" (P2P), thanks again Simon, connection to collaborate with various host country sectors. I see this accomplished through VSO volunteers working with various Nepal sectors, e.g. government and school collaborations. I also try to imagine what it would be like as we collaborate with not only funding agencies but other volunteer sending organisations. The impact could truly be incredible if we can somehow transcend the goals of the sending countries, finding appropriate "team" placements based on skills/expertise level . My hope then is that we will continue to put aside our egos and "our" organisations and work collaboratively in asking Nepalis how we can collaboratively help and what we can do.
The views in this article reflect only those of the author.